Southern Spotlight: Milo

by James Banahan

by James Banahan

For some of us, it’s a four-letter word.

But. With seed cheaper than corn and a 40 cent premium over corn as well, lots of y’all are going to plant it this year, even if you haven’t dipped your toe in that pond for the past half decade.

In all actuality, milo is a good crop, so long as you manage it. Unmanaged milo or poorly managed milo is where the nightmare stories come from and besmirches the reputation of this good grain.

So. It’s been a few years since you tried your hand at milo—what do you need to know? Probably two main points this year: get a handle on your weeds and contract a price.

Weeds, especially grassy weeds (which includes volunteer wheat), in your milo fields make for serious heartache. There’s no such thing as RoundUp ready milo—and there never will be—so weed management before planting is key.   And when I say “weed management,” I’m talking about a comprehensive chemistry plan that boasts multiple modes of action (and requires multiple passes, too—sorry.) “Weed management” in milo isn’t exactly easy or cheap. While milo currently has the financial edge over corn, you should expect to spend the same amount on herbicide than you would if you were planting corn.

There is no viable post- option for grassy weeds in milo. So an important bullet point under weed management is that you don’t rush to plant. Let’s say you roll out the planter to head out for that first day of sinking milo seed into the ground. Stop for a second first. Take a little pause and take a little stroll out into your fields, just one last time. Now check it out. Do you see any weeds? And I mean any weeds—any little blade or leaf that shouldn’t be there. Yes? Then park that planter, man. Just for two or three days, but take care of that weed business before you go out and start. There is no viable post- option for grassy weeds in milo.

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The second important point of milo management this year in particular is contracting a price. Many of you are wading back into the milo pond because of its financial edge over corn. That edge doesn’t necessarily have to last—the 40 cent premium over corn might be short-lived indeed—so contracting a price at least partially will protect the very reason you’re doing this all. To obtain the best, smartest contract possible, you’ll need to know your base yield (usually around 80-90 bushels per acre). If you’ve been growing milo regularly, that’s not a problem. If it’s been a few years, your base yield might just be a big old question mark in your mind. In that case, turn to your county average. Your FSA office (office!—not your FSA person) should be able to provide you with that number as should your federal crop insurance adjuster.

If you have more questions about contracting a price, your FSA (the person, not the office) can put you in contact with a grain marketer who can provide you with some guidance about leveraging risk in the current market.

All in all, if you’re choosing to try your hand once again at milo, it’s a good time to give it a go. Your care addressing (or really, obliterating) weeds before planting and contracting a price that solidifies milo’s current financial edge over corn will make any effort very worth your while.